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Entries in rosemarie dewitt (3)

Friday
Dec282012

Promised Land

Promised Land has nothing but good intentions and I agree with what it has to say. It tries to expose the dangers of natural gas drilling by highlighting a small farming community, the inhabitants of which don’t have the slightest clue about what could possibly happen if these companies begin fracking, and a small group’s battle to stop the destruction of their community. After watching the terrific Oscar nominated documentary film, Gasland, the dangers of such a procedure are clearly evident, and even with all that on its side, Promised Land still doesn’t work, exaggerating nearly everything to the point of absurdity, including the lengths a company will go to begin the fracking process.

Steve Butler (Matt Damon) works for a natural gas company. He is working hard for a promotion and his latest job entails purchasing a local farming community’s land so they can begin drilling for gas. So, along with his partner, Sue (Frances McDormand), Steve sets off to do just that. However, before he’s even aware of it, an environmental group led by a sole activist named Dustin (John Krasinski) is in town and trying to change the people’s minds with horror stories of his own experiences with his community being overtaken by natural gas companies. It quickly becomes a showdown between the two factions, each fighting to convince the town that the other is trying to manipulate them.

Such a story is ripe for drama. The natural opposition between big business and small town, between those trying to make money through destruction and those trying to save their land despite their poverty, is gripping stuff. A small environmental group spreading truth and convincing the people to stand up against the bigwigs who think they can win any argument by throwing money at it is inspiring. But that’s not the direction Promised Land takes. Without ruining it, it instead approaches its topic from a “conspiracy theory” angle, with a late movie twist that is so ridiculous it somehow manages to over-demonize the corporation it has already made quite clear is up to no good anyway. Instead of feeling anger towards the characters in the movie, the ones that are aiming to harm the innocent townsfolk who don’t know any better, your anger is directed at the filmmakers for taking what should have been a simple, effective story and pushing it so far over the top as to be self-parody.

And that phrase isn’t used lightly in this context. In one scene, when Steve is sitting at a bar, the rest of the town now suspicious of what he’s trying to do, the film comes dangerously close to the clichéd “we don’t take kindly to strangers” bar scene that has been endlessly satirized at this point. In another, the townspeople stand in unison against the proposal to begin fracking in their town, similar to how soldiers in a war movie all step forward at the same time to fight the good fight. It’s like watching a movie come to life that was written by a first time screenwriter who wanted to tackle a serious issue, but knew nothing beyond the dramatic tropes he’s seen in television soap operas. All the more surprise comes when one finds out it was actually written by Damon and Krasinski, the former of who actually won an Academy Award for his Good Will Hunting screenplay in 1997 and should know how to avoid such typical Hollywood pratfalls.

The writing, put simply, lacks subtlety. It refuses to allow viewers to form their own opinions, instead forcing you to hop onboard with its heavy-handed approach or be left behind. Just when you think Promised Land can’t pile it on anymore, it somehow does and then continues to do so until the end. It’s as if the filmmakers made a bet with themselves to see if they could make each successive scene cheesier and more laughable than the last (and if that’s the case, bravo). The only thing saving the film from complete disaster is its surprising amount of humor, including its utilization of rack focus to create a number of visual gags that are downright inspired. The problem is that humor works counterproductive to the film’s serious goal, so when the drama does come into play, it feels out of place and exaggerated. If you’re really interested in the subject, watch the aforementioned Gasland, because it doesn’t matter if you’re for or against natural gas drilling, Promised Land reeks of manipulation.

Promised Land receives 2/5

Friday
Jul272012

The Watch

The idea of a comedy centered on a neighborhood watch group isn’t a bad one. Some wild and unpredictable things can happen in a small town on a quiet night, but a premise alone is not enough to sustain a film. Despite a mostly likable cast of actors, this week’s newest film, The Watch, is hopelessly unfunny. It struggles to gain even the slightest bit of momentum, a strange problem in a movie that amps up the unpredictability by throwing invading aliens hell bent on destroying Earth into the mix. The film is only 98 minutes long, but it feels at least double that. It’s a waste of time and talent, both in front of and behind the camera (at least in terms of writing) and it’s sure to be one of the lamest and flattest comedies of the year.

Evan (Ben Stiller) is a nice guy. He’s active in his community and forms a number of groups to better it. He’s also the general manager of the local Costco, a job not many people would find fulfilling, but one that he adores with all his heart. He’s ever the optimist and loves those around him, but one night, his overnight security guard is murdered. Determined to get to the bottom of it, he forms a neighborhood watch with local thrill seekers Bob (Vince Vaughn), Franklin (Jonah Hill) and Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade). They quickly discover that the murderer isn’t human, however, and that an alien race has landed on their planet that intends to wipe them out. Despite the danger, the men vow to stop that from happening.

The Watch does some things you expect and some things you don’t, but it does nearly all of them wrong. For example, in the film, Jonah Hill plays a toughened wanna-be cop, one that has no problem eyeing people down and whipping out his switchblade. He charges headfirst into battle unafraid of the consequences. This goes against our created perception of who this person is as an actor, but the problem is Hill can’t pull this type of roll off. He’s at his best when he’s vulnerable, nerdy and outspoken, not acting like he’s tougher than tough. Vaughn, on the other hand, essentially plays himself. He’s still obnoxious, crude and loud (does he really need to yell every line?) and he overpowers everyone else in the film, especially poor Richard Ayoade, who is given hardly a line to speak at all for the first half of the film and is mostly relegated to sitting their prettily while the rest of the cast plays off each other. Vaughn’s shtick has become tiresome, wearing out its welcome sometime around when the credits for Wedding Crashers ended. He hasn’t had a hit (or even a decent movie) in at least six years and there’s a reason for that. The man needs to switch things up a bit.

Vaughn needed to go against typecast and Hill needed to remain the same. This is just one example of the film having the right idea, but then ignoring it and doing the exact opposite. It correctly puts the group into some precarious situations, but it telegraphs them so far in advance that they’re hardly a surprise when they finally roll around. One of these scenes revolves around a new neighbor who acts suspiciously and may or may not be an alien, but his mannerisms are so sexual that what’s really going on in his basement is obvious. The late movie twist is similarly transparent, but it’s not its predictability that’s the problem; it’s that a certain character’s actions and motivations are called into question once it happens. There’s no real reason behind any of what happens. It just coasts along straining for jokes, never really grabbing any, and then it ends.

But it doesn’t end before a giant action scene so reminiscent of James Cameron’s 1986 sequel Aliens that I’m a little surprised it didn’t reference it. The only thing that separates this alien action scene from others is where the aliens’ weak spot is (I’ll give you one guess), but such immaturity is not inherently funny. After watching this dreck, you’d be surprised if anyone involved in its making has even heard the word “funny.” I’m so vehemently against this brain killing film that I have no qualms telling you to skip it, though the product placement is so egregious, it probably won’t matter. In what amounts to essentially a cinematic fellation of the wholesale store, Costco could have conceivably covered the film’s entire budget. It will most likely be a success, but nevertheless, comedies like this are not okay. Lazy, dull and stupid only begin to describe it. Most real life neighborhood watches are uneventful and boring, but it’s hard to imagine any are more boring than sitting through The Watch.

The Watch receives 0.5/5

Friday
Jun152012

Your Sister's Sister

Your Sister’s Sister begins with a somber moment. One year after the death of a man named Tom, his friends and family have gotten together to remember him. Most talk about how special and kind he was, a person who was always willing to lend a helping hand, but his still grieving brother, Jack (Mark Duplass), remembers him differently. He remembers him as the little hellion he was when they were kids, before everybody else in the room met him. After ranting about how terrible he could be (not out of hate, but out of his disgust for people who claim to know so much about him, but really don’t), his best friend and Tom’s ex-girlfriend, Iris (Emily Blunt), tells him to take a load off and get away for a while. She tells him to go to her father’s cabin where he will be shut off from the world, but when he gets there, he finds her lesbian sister Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt), who has also retreated there to get away from a difficult situation.

This is where the movie takes a turn. It becomes more humorous and the two characters who have never met each other before begin to form a bond. After a long night of drinking, they end up having sex with each other. What’s clear in these early moments is that the characters are indeed facing central problems that motivate their actions, but the movie smartly never dwells on them. It never forces us to feel bad for either of them, instead allowing us to make up our own minds based on what they do and say, not how the screenplay wants us to feel.

A large portion of this could be because of its improvised nature, a staple of the recent so-called mumblecore film movement, but this isn’t like, say, Humpday, which consisted of 10 written pages with no dialogue. Your Sister’s Sister is a 70 page treatment that clearly has a narrative and emotional path in mind, yet it allows the actors to forge that path themselves. It’s the best blending of mumblecore with traditional filmmaking to date.

But while the characters are strongly defined through equal parts performance and writing, they’re stuck in a story that would feel like a gimmick in a romantic comedy. When Iris shows up the next morning after Jack and Hannah’s rendezvous, a number of things are learned, of which I’ll leave secret for fear of revealing spoilers. Although the events are handled more delicately than they would be in a more conventional rom-com, they are no less banal and inconsequential, the latter adjective used only because the film wraps up a hugely complex and precarious situation in an unbelievably tidy manner. The overly simplistic conclusion makes the conflicts feel minute in scale, despite their essentiality to the story.

Nevertheless, Your Sister’s Sister is a solid movie, featuring a trio of excellent performances and dynamic character relationships that ring true in every scene. Above anything else, the film is about sibling love and forgiveness, even when that sibling has done something unforgivable. For the most part, it succeeds both narratively and emotionally in what it sets out to do (despite a silly and heavy handed end speech), but Your Sister’s Sister never rises above that humdrum feeling its premise elicits.

Your Sister’s Sister receives 3.5/5